I am a certified Pad Thai junky (that's right, we carry ID). I have tried at least 20 versions of the classic, each with a different spin. For some reason, Mai Tai's is my local favorite. The portion is perfect, the chosen protein always generous (even the shrimp) and the flavor an ideal mix of mildly sweet, spicy and peanutty-good. But for once, I decided to branch out and experiment within my comfortable rut.
Arriving a little after noon, my roommate and I were afraid we would find the place packed like a cheap bus to Vegas. It usually is, and though the servers do their best in the frenzy, people are bound to lose arms and get side salads without any dressing ... lucky us, the dining room was busy but not full. We were shown to a table in the bar beneath a row of mechanized palm fronds, in full view of men dipping their elbows in the infinite pool and women slurping noodles like an ad for Camel Straights. Ice water and menus were delivered promptly and I marveled once again at the deep purple silk of the covers. They are just the slightest bit gaudy, as is the projected Buddha on the dining room wall, but the actual bill of fare is tasteful and beautifully formatted in full-color photos and charmingly stilted descriptions.
My roommate decided on one of the Jaan Duan or lunch specials, a daily offering of dishes for $5.95 (provided you eat in-house). Her pick was the Khow Mun Kai, strips of fried chicken on garlic rice served with sweet chili sauce and soup. I went for the Larb of Chiang Mai, which is ground chicken, mint leaves, chili powder and roasted rice powder spiked with green beans and purple onion.
While waiting for our entrees, my rommie and I witnessed a skateboard delivery boy take to the streets and munched on a simple salad of mixed greens, shredded carrot, cucumber, tomato and chunky peanut dressing. Not long after, our meals arrived. While different from the airbrushed shots in the menu/magazine, both dishes were presented well. My larb was served in a giant cabbage cup with orange twists and some crisp lettuce. It looked almost like a sundae made of meat and greens, and it tasted very different from larbs I've tried elsewhere. The texture of ground chicken is not my favorite, but the taste was a good mix of citrus, mint and chili. The breading on my roommate's chicken tasted slightly of fish (not her favorite), but the accompanying rice was fragrant and light. Raking the chicken to the side of the plate where I could devour it in the tangy red sauce, she enjoyed the rice with its bits of lemon grass and chive. Then we spotted the mystery soup on the edge of her china plate. It looked to be a simple broth with diced scallions, but her puckered face after tasting it indicated "fishiness." I love fish, but the soup was more like warm water with a couple squirts of oil and bonito flakes—not the best representation of Thai cuisine.
Overall, the food was fresh, tasty and well worth the price. Try finding a better deal on a sub sandwich with chips and a drink and you'll soon discover that the proof is in the sweet black pudding (see desserts).
—Erin Ryan has caught many things on her line: trout, telemarketers and tankinis.